In its second season, Star Wars Rebels offers a now familiar set of adventures for fans of the Force (young apprentice being trained by a Jedi master while enjoying the camaraderie and support of an eclectic group of friends).
The Production: 4/5
An animated program taking place in the Star Wars universe a few years before the events of A New Hope, Star Wars Rebels is crammed full of the things Jedi fanatics love, and it’s no surprise that the series was an instant hit with viewers of all ages (though obviously focused on the male preteen crowd). Put together by people who know the Star Wars universe inside and out and dipping just enough into the old, familiar characters from movies and TV series gone by to ground the show while concentrating on a new ragtag group of insurgents against the Empire, Star Wars Rebels now in its second season is still enjoyable enough even for those of us who don’t sleep, eat, drink, and breathe the universe of George Lucas’ masterful creation.
With the Empire making life miserable for all of the people who suffer under their rule, cells of insurgents have been gathering for some time attempting to do what they can to waylay the wicked masters of death and destruction. The show begins its second season with the six primary agitators: former Jedi Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and his apprentice Jedi/teenaged Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray), Kanan’s ace pilot (and sweetheart) Hera Syndulla (Vanessa Marshall), team muscle Zeb Orrelios (Steve Blum), demolitions expert/sage mechanic Sabine Wren (Tiya Sircar), and an R1 droid called Chopper. In between training lessons for his young charge, Kanan and Ezra run into continual opposition from Imperial Forces who have several more than capable leaders out to stop the team: sneering Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo), Admiral Konstantine (Dee Bradley Baker), and a couple of pesky, dangerous Inquisitors who simply will not stop in their mission to destroy the rebels and particularly the Jedi.
The twenty-two episodes in season two are almost all jammed with action sequences (which makes watching more than one or two at a time somewhat repetitive), and those who adored the space dogfights in the Star Wars films and the continuous duels with light sabers will feel right at home with the series. Some of the missions the team goes on are traps set by the Empire which our heroes quite gullibly fall for while occasionally a member of the team gets captured by the villains requiring ingenious subterfuges and dangerous infiltrations in order to make the rescues possible. And Star Wars fans will feel right at home with the use of many of the familiar tropes from the films: walkers, TIE fighters, light sabers, and the like. And though the primary cast members are mostly new characters for this franchise, expect cameos from some old favorites including this season Lando Calrissian, the clone Rex, Yoda, Darth Maul (though he’s dropped the “Darth” now that both sides are his enemies), and, naturally, Darth Vader. While the stories all tend to be action oriented, there are a few episodes which push character exploration to the forefront instead of continual duels and jousts. An episode featuring the melting of hot-tempered Zeb Orrelios’ feelings about clones when Rex joins the rebels is one of the season’s highlights as is another Zeb encounter with a real enemy, Agent Kallus. Each saves the other’s life during their ordeal on a frozen planet, and seeds seem to be planted for Kallus to possibly have a change of allegiance during season three. The season finale, however, pits two of the franchise’s most popular characters in what may be a final face-off: Darth Vader (the indispensable James Earl Jones) against his old Jedi trainee Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Her fate, of course, is left to a typical season-ending cliffhanger.
The voice cast is outstanding from the most important characters to the occasional word from a TIE pilot or a downtrodden villager. Freddie Prinze Jr. is especially charismatic as Kanan, and Taylor Gray evinces all of the traits one would expect of a maturing teenaged boy: headstrong, stubborn, enthusiastic but easily distracted, quick to take offense, get angry, or emotionally hurt. Steve Blum does a great job adding most of the comic relief (along with the droid Chopper who’s given his own C3PO-like droid late in the season, AP-5 voiced by Stephen Stanton) with his muscle-bound galoot who is hard on the outside and marshmallow soft on the inside. And the program’s major villains voiced by David Oyelowo as Kallas and Sam Witwer as Maul sound viciously evil without overdoing the sinister qualities of their characters or sinking to stereotypical maniacal laughter to express their wicked natures.
Here are the twenty-two episodes contained on three Blu-ray discs:
1 – The Siege of Lothal, Part 1
2 – The Siege of Lothal, Part 2
3 – The Lost Commanders
4 – Relics of the Old Republic
5 – Always Two There Are
6 – Brothers of the Broken Horn
7 – Wings of the Master
8 – Blood Sisters
9 – Stealth Strike
10 – The Future of the Force
11 – Legacy
12 – A Princess on Lothal
13 – The Protector of Concord Dawn
14 – Legends of the Lasat
15 – The Call
16 – Homecoming
17 – The Honorable Ones
18 – Shroud of Darkness
19 – The Forgotten Droid
20 – The Mystery of Chopper Base
21 – Twilight of the Apprentice, Part 1
22 – Twilight of the Apprentice, Part 2
3D Rating: NA
The transfers are framed at 1.78:1 and are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is outstanding throughout, and color depth and reproduction is beautiful and consistent with no blooming. The character animation will remind you of the in between examples one often sees on CG animated features as the movies are readying themselves for the final animation passes, but the look is consistent and quickly becomes the status quo for the series, and that doesn’t negate any of the really finely detailed background art or action sequences which get the more realistic CG treatment. The black levels of space are inky black and quite impressive. There is occasional evidence of banding in lighter colored backgrounds, but this anomaly occurs quite infrequently. Each episode has been divided into 5 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is aggressively present in all available channels with thundering bass to give tremendous rumble to the LFE channel and split effects that provide the kind of immersive movie-like experience one takes for granted in theatrical sci-fi presentations but which one rarely gets in television productions. Dialogue has been well recorded and is mostly found in the center channel though there is an occasional bit of directionalized dialogue. The music by Kevin Kiner (with occasional themes based on the original scores by John Williams) also adds enormous presence to all of the scenes being offered in both the fronts and rears. A half point has been deducted from the score for the lack of a lossless high definition mix. Otherwise, this is reference quality work.
Special Features: 3/5
Rebels Recon (2:10:07, HD): StarWars.com host Andi Gutierrez along with producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg, the star cast, special effects supervisor Joel Aron, and art director Kilian Plunkett offers the on-line scoop on each of the program’s episodes from season two. Each of the webisodes offers a quick introduction to the episode’s plot, some background information on the production, questions and answers from fans, and then presents previews for the next episode. The twenty programs spread over the three discs in the set can be played all together on each disc or accessed separately.
Connecting the Galaxy: Rebels Season 2 (3:30, HD): a brief discussion of Easter eggs found during the season and how they relate to some other entry in the Star Wars universe.
From Apprentice To Adversary: Vader Vs. Ahsoka (6:08, HD): executive producer/supervising director Dave Filoni gives background on the two adversaries through the various movies and series and touches on Ahsoka’s journey into discovering Vader’s true identity. He doesn’t offer any clues about her ultimate fate, however.
In its second season, Star Wars Rebels offers a now familiar set of adventures for fans of the Force (young apprentice being trained by a Jedi master while enjoying the camaraderie and support of an eclectic group of friends), and this Blu-ray release of the lengthier second season offers outstanding picture and sound in episodes which move quickly. Recommended!